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The Howling and Divine

Chapter Text

After their Ancestor had first sloughed off its mortal form, every parent would take their newly born children to meet the Wolf. Once upon a time, the family seat had been a great villa built in the shadow of Mt. Etna—a statement of courage and a dare to the gods. And so they would climb the mountain with infant in tow, with the hope of receiving the family blessing from the terrifying being their forebearer had dared to marry in defiance of the Sealed Beast Wars.

Now, in the modern world, meeting the Ancestor wasn’t quite as dramatic.

These were Claudia’s thoughts as she carried Sariel in a snug, little sling on her back and navigated the deceptively large hedge maze, behind a small cottage located deep within the Preserve. The shrubs were intense greens, covered in thorns and a profusion of vivid flowers. The sweet and heady fragrance of datura that filled the maze made a mockery of the daylight. Claudia knew her herbalism, and half of these vines were flowering out of season and in colors never seen in nature. The further she traveled, the path seemed to shrink in on itself. Despite the absence of a canopy, the light took on a peculiar dim quality, as though it was filtered through dark glass. Though none of the thorns had come close enough to touch, that wouldn’t be the case if this shrinking continued, so she took Sariel down from his perch and held him close to her chest.

The moment she pushed past soft vines obscuring the way to the center, she stopped and stood in stunned amazement. For here in the center of the maze lay a clearing that should not exist. If the trees and plants of the maze were strange, then these were odder by several degrees. A huge willow spread silver leaves over a sourceless brook which offered no hint of its existence outside of the maze. The air stirred, but it was unconnected to the still, dry day she remembered from the Preserve. Even the sun hung in the wrong place. It was too close to the horizon, so recently dawn that the sky here was still painted in streaks of pink and gold. The power to force your will upon so many aspects of the natural world—even in this limited space—had to be immense. It was far more than she could do, even with help from her bondmate.

“Welcome to my garden, Claudia.” The voice surrounded her, but the next words seemed to come from just beside her as man and bench materialized mere feet away. His eyes crinkled deeply as he smiled. “Did you enjoy my maze?”

“It was frightening and beautiful, Ancestor. I never thought such a thing could be in the Preserve.” Even more strange was that the Ancestor appeared as a simple man. Not the most handsome or striking man, but there was something alluring in his chosen form. Sandy brown hair fell around bright blue eyes and a face that eschewed the vanity of eternal youth. It was a rugged face with stubble and lines, presenting the image of a man who had faced hard years but remained in the prime of his life.

“Come sit by me, Claudia. I hardly ever bite these days.” Sharp teeth flashed in the light as he threw his head back and laughed at his own joke. For a wild moment, she could swear that she saw the wolf he was rumoured to be.

If Claudia’s answering laugh betrayed her nerves, then who could blame her? Though the Ancestor phrased it as the most pleasant of requests, it was tantamount to an order, so she sat on the stone bench, balancing on the farthest edge from him. “You honor me,” she murmured and cuddled Sariel, laying her cheek against the petal softness of his baby skin.

“Do I? You’re all so stiff and formal with me when you come to me as parents. It’s never the babies who are afraid. They know I’ll protect them as I have protected this family for hundreds of years, since the first time human and demon dared a union that would bear fruit.” He hummed in thought. “You maintain that ridiculous rule about my name, so I doubt you’d use it even with my invitation. What can I do to set you at ease?”

A pair of wire-rimmed glasses appeared in his hand, and he slid on the frames. His eyes were no less blue behind a shield of glass and metal. His mouth twitched in what might be wry humor. “How’s this for non-threatening?”

Sariel fussed and waved a chubby fist towards the glasses. “There’s one vote of approval. The glasses are a nice touch. Very academic.” Then she laughed at herself and the absurdity of it all and scooted closer on a bench that seemed much softer than it did mere moments ago. “It’s probably near blasphemous to say this, but you look a bit like a sexy professor pin up. Did you use this form when you married Aurelia?”

He offered a finger to Sariel and smiled softly when he latched on with that odd infant strength and immediately tried to put it in his mouth. “I’ve always loved children. May I?” Claudia nodded in ill-concealed surprise and passed her firstborn son into the outstretched arms of her demon ancestor. “And yes. This has always been my human form when I choose to wear it.” Without taking his attention from bouncing Sariel on his lap, he tilted his head and used his body to affect an aura of questioning.

“The stories never mentioned this part. You’re always strong and terrifying with or without each other. There’s not much of a human element… or love?”

“In that time it wasn’t about love. It was about the war and having the strength to back your convictions. We were a reluctant partnership born of expediency and common goals, but we provided the key to the human-demon bonding that exists now. At times, I think we might have killed each other if we could have…”

“Oh.” She blinked. “That’s not in the stories either.”

“I don’t imagine it would be.” He sighed and stroked the flyaway fluff masquerading for Sariel’s hair. “Ask me the real question, Claudia. Ask me what’s truly in your heart. All of you present your children to me out of a misguided sense of duty because you want something. Even Aurelia—especially Aurelia—wanted something.”

“You’re not much of one for small talk are you?” she grumbled, stung by the criticism… and the fact that he wasn’t wrong. “I have so many questions, but they pale in importance to you blessing my child. You’re right,” she admitted. “I do want things, including not to be afraid of you. I want you to welcome Sariel into the family. I want you lend him a portion of your grace?” A strange premonition struck, and her mouth moved without her permission. “But most of all, I wonder…” She tipped her chin up, in defiance or submission, she could not say. “Will you take his bond? As you have not done since your first and only?”

The sweet breeze of the garden died. The cheerful burble of the brook dancing over stones fell silent. Even the sun didn’t seem as warm. For long hushed moments, nothing happened. He didn’t turn from the baby in his arms, cooing softly to make Sariel blow bubbles and giggle.

“This is the question in your heart. You would ask me to be part of the mortal world again. To give Sariel power over me as I have not surrendered for hundreds of years. To take him as my summoner and lend him my grace and my strength when he steps into the circle and commits himself to Hieros Gamos?”

“I do.” Later, Claudia would quake at her audacity and wonder at his use of such an old name for the rite. Now, there was only her child and what she could beg, borrow, and steal for his sake.

Taking care to support Sariel’s head, he lifted the baby up to his face, eyes flaring red behind the glasses. Sariel gurgled happily at the trick and grabbed for the glasses, knocking them askew. They disappeared then, back into the fabric of reality, permitting tiny fingers to explore his face and tug on hair. With all apparent sincerity, he asked the baby, “Well, Sariel. Do you think I’ll suit?”

Sariel was only a baby. It shouldn’t have meant anything, but he offered up another toothless smile. When the baby’s arm lost its strength and fell to the Ancestor’s arm, it landed exactly where his true name should lay, hidden beneath fabric.

“Ahhh.” The sound escaped him like air from a leaking tire. “Very well, Claudia. Truly, fate was moving through you. I think I’ll look back on this as my favorite blessing.” The Ancestor stared into Sariel’s dark, unfocused eyes until a blink broke the moment, and he pressed a brief kiss to Sariel’s wrinkly forehead as though he was a normal, doting uncle meeting a new nephew. “Yes,” he whispered, lips brushing against the baby, “I think we can expect great things from you, little angel.”

“Is that—” Claudia hesitated, biting her lip. “Is that it?”

“It’s enough for for now.” He gravely handed her son back. “We have a compact. When Sariel Stilinski casts his first circle in preparation for the great rite, I will come to him and be his bonded.” He patted her on the shoulder. “I’m sure you can see yourself out.”

Feeling as though she’d just escaped a dire fate, she hurried to wrap Sariel in his sling and rushed through the maze, no longer afraid of the thorns. Perhaps she could call it instinct, but she knew with certainty that no part of the Ancestor’s magic would ever play a role in harming her child, not after their compact.

Chapter Text

Doctor Alan Deaton, Headmaster at the Academy of Immaculate Light, didn’t take his eyes off his computer’s monitor. His fingers glided over the keyboard with a delicacy belied by his large hands. A study in contrasts, Professor Harris glowered down at them in mute fury while his bondmate, Ennis, lounged against the far wall with his eyes closed.

Stiles sighed and cast wistful glances at the plush, green velvet-covered chairs that had been shoved to each side when the oak bench of tedious lectures had grown out of the floor, in front of the Dr. Deaton’s desk. He’d never experienced the joy of sitting in the comfortable visitor’s chairs, and didn’t expect to at this rate. Instead, Stiles sat and kicked his heels on the familiar, pale wooden bench reserved for rulebreakers and delinquents. Also familiar, was the presence of Jackson Whittemore slouching beside him. Visits to the headmaster were old hat by now, but he still squirmed in the face of Dr. Deaton’s purposeful inattention.

The minutes he sat, cooling his heels, never failed to drive home the fact that the headmaster was a busy and important man—too busy and important to be bothered by their constant schoolboy scuffles. In fact, Stiles knew, through a combination of eavesdropping and a cavalier disregard for personal privacy, that the only reason the headmaster made time for these disciplinary meetings was because they were both the heirs to significant families. Also, the Whittemores would kick up such an unholy clamor that anyone would think they were the ones with demonic ancestry. Arbiters. It just went to show that magical or mundane made no difference. Lawyers were not to be trusted. At least, that’s what his mom would say after calling on Anne Whittemore.

Miffed at Dr. Deaton’s deliberate delay, Stiles kicked harder and made a gruesome face at Ennis. The demon had a sixth sense about mischief and an amazingly juvenile sense of humor for being bound to someone as prissy as Professor Harris. Without skipping a beat, Ennis’ eyes shot open, flaring bright blue. He contorted his face into a fearsome mask, bony ridges and furrows jutting out from his skin. They continued their impromptu scary face contest until Dr. Deaton cleared his throat loudly, for the third time.

When the sound finally broke through Stiles’ focus, he snapped his face back into what he hoped was a suitably penitent expression.

“Sorry, Dr. Deaton,” he muttered after Jackson jabbed him in the ribs with a pointy elbow. “I was checking on Ennis. Making sure he wasn’t falling asleep. I hear it’s a bad sign if you fall asleep standing up, so I was just doing my civic duty.” He cast a glance up through his lashes and offered his most winning smile. The one that almost always convinced his parents and Mrs. McCall to forgive his worst misdeeds.

“Thank you for the apology. I’m sure that he and Mr. Harris appreciate your concern, Stiles,” Dr. Deaton replied in his predictably calm voice. The stack of referrals were very bright against the brown of Dr. Deaton’s skin as he shuffled through them. “Boys, do you know what these are?”

They both shook their heads and muttered, “No, Sir.”

“These are copies of all of the disciplinary referrals you two have received as the result of your little feud.” He let them slip through his fingers and fall into a pile on the glossy wooden surface of his desk. “Mr. Harris. How many of these are from you?”

Their professor tapped his foot and pursed his lips in thought. Stiles was completely unsurprised when he took less than ten seconds to spit out an answer. “Why, we’ve only been in session for two months, but somehow Misters Stilinski and Whittemore have managed to accumulate twenty-two individual referrals. I, myself, am responsible for fifteen of those because these two little hoodlums have no sense of decorum in or out of my classroom.”

When he gave a little, disdainful sniff at the end of his declaration, Stiles glanced over at Jackson and rolled his eyes, and Jackson wasn’t too good to return the gesture. There was a reason they kept getting in trouble around Professor Harris, and it was only partially because of their feud.

“This has gone far beyond a schoolyard rivalry.” Dr. Deaton’s allowed his impassive facade to crack enough that he steepled his fingers in a distinctly annoyed way. “I’ll be frank,” he continued in the same mild tone he’d employed for this and every other disciplinary meeting. “Nothing is working. We’ve had detentions and suspensions and family meetings. Mediation—three times.

“If the two of you didn’t come from the families that you do, and if you didn’t show so much promise…” He leveled a flat stare at both boys and shook his head. “The two of you would be out of here so fast the heads of your future bondmates would be spinning. Twenty-two referrals. That averages to almost three a week. For each of you. This stops now, or I might stop caring about the fact that you’re both legacies of this fine institution. If you are unable to hold to the standard of behavior that governs all of us at Immaculate Light, then I’ll be explaining to your parents that they need to find new schools for their erstwhile scions.”

Ashamed at that cold denouncement, Stiles’ eyes grew hot and damp. A stolen glance at Jackson gave him the satisfaction seeing his classmate turn chalky white beneath his tan, but it was small comfort. No one had been as proud as Claudia Stilinski when he’d received an invitation to attend when he was only ten. That was a whole year earlier than most people, and he’d almost let Jackson ruin it.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Deaton. It won’t happen again.”

Beside him, Jackson mumbled similar apologies.

The headmaster gazed down at them both, his face stern. “I’ve been more than lenient these last two months. I’m tired of seeing you in here. If there’s any more fighting, then you’re both suspended for the rest of the semester so the board can make a decision about your future attendance. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”

“Jackson, you’ll report to Mr. Harris for your punishment after the final bell. Ennis, you’ll take Stiles. Your parents will be informed that you have detention this afternoon and when they should collect you. Be prepared for yet another parent-teacher meeting that wastes all of our time. Now stay out of my office. I don’t want to see either of you on this bench before you graduate.”

With that clear dismissal, Stiles jumped off the bench like his pants were on fire and pelted off to his next class. Professor Yukimura never minded if he was a few minutes late, especially if he was coming from the headmaster’s office.

Unfortunately for Stiles, the final bell tolled at three-fifteen sharp like every other day before. While everyone else couldn’t wait to shove their things in their bags and leave, Stiles fussed over packing his chalk and salt into their proper cases and settling them just so inside his backpack.

“Bye, Scott. I guess we’ll start that new game tomorrow… if I’m not grounded.”

Scott thumped him on the shoulder. “It’ll be all right, dude. Even if you’re grounded, I bet they’d still let you go to Mass with me, and that’s kinda like hanging out.” Scott gave his best attempt at a warning glare, but he mostly looked constipated instead. “Just don’t take communion or break the kneeler this time. Father Ortiz is scary when he’s mad, and mom made me help the little kids for weeks after I brought you.”

“I got hungry! And bored! And how was I supposed to know that the foot rest moved like that.” Stiles pouted. “We were excommunicated like five hundred years ago, dude. That was my first time at church.”

“This is why I can’t bring you to family parties, Stiles! Everyone remembers what happened with you and the holy water font.” Scott crossed his arms and tried to square his jaw. “I know you’ve got Ennis for your detention, but you should probably hurry. At least he likes you, so it’ll be better than whatever Harris does to Jackson.”

“I guess…” They shuddered in unison at the thought of Professor Harris’ cheerful malice. “Except he kind of likes Jackson. A little. Well, he hates Jackson less than he hates me.”

“Aww. Don’t be a butt. You got off so lucky with this. Your mom kind of hates the Whittemores, so she probably won’t even be that mad at you. Just that you keep getting caught.” Scott paused and gave him the world’s dopiest, sappiest smile. “Your mom is so cool.”

“Yeah, she really is.” Stiles let the grin tug at his lips as he swung his bag up and onto his shoulders. “All right, I’m off to my doom.”

As easy as he expected it to be, it was still detention, so Stiles took his time. Or he would have if Ennis hadn’t been waiting for him in the hallway. Stiles jumped like a scalded cat when he turned left, past the lockers, and nearly ran into the demon. The huge man grinned at the strangled yelp that escaped Stiles.

“Ahh there it is,” Ennis inhaled deeply. “The suffering of children is the sweetest perfume. I love working in a school!”

“Ew. You’re so gross,” Stiles complained.

“And shame-free,” the demon agreed with inappropriate cheer. “You took your sweet time getting out here, Stiles. You shouldn’t do the crime if you don’t want to do the time.” Then he leaned down and crooked a finger through the loop at the top of Stiles bag and guided him to the east wing.

Ennis chided, “If you’d been more prompt, then I wouldn’t feel the need to leash you like this. You brought this on yourself, kid. But as it turns out, something’s come up. So you’re going to sit in Professor Baccari’s classroom and work quietly on your assignments until four-fifteen. Someone should be dropping by to make sure you don’t burn the place down. Capisce?”


Ennis patted him roughly on the head. “You’re a good kid. Now stop getting in trouble. I’m tired of the non-stop bitching from Adrian and others. Deal?”

Stiles screwed up his face. “Deal. But Jackson is still a butt.”

The demon grimaced. “No arguments from me, but I never said it. Try not to be a smartass. Especially if it’s Kali. You know how much she hates that shit.”

Ouch. Kali may be a worse fate than Harris, but the rule with predators was not to show fear, so Stiles threw back his shoulders and lied like a rug. “Whatever,” he scoffed. “She’s not that scary.”

Ennis laughed hard enough at that to bend over and pound his knee. “God’s blood! I’d like to see someone tell her that.” He cocked his head and winced, clearly receiving a private message. “All right. I’m gone. Put your butt in a seat and be good.” Ennis winked in farewell before flexing his right arm. For a split-second Stiles could see the shimmer of abstract lines and swirls that spelled his true name and acted as a summoning symbol. The demon took one step and before his foot could land the second time, he stepped into the barely there ripple in the air and vanished.

“That’s so cool,” Stiles breathed. His mom never called on Emilia when they were at home, so the chance to see demonic magic in action almost made the detention worth it. But the thrill was short-lived, and now all he had to do was sit here and wait for his new babysitter. Ugh. Resigned to an hour of boredom, he dug through his bag and pulled out his worksheets on complementary energies.

Despite his initial reluctance, Stiles finished the worksheets in record time. It had already been twenty minutes, and there was still no sign of his unnamed detention monitor. Restless again, he eyed the clock with increasingly wild ideas to cut out early when the classroom door swung open to reveal a tall, sandy haired man in wire-rimmed glasses. With his navy sweater and tan slacks, he looked like the quintessential professor—but not one that Stiles had seen on campus. Yet he had to be a professor. There was no way any self-respecting demon would dress like this, without a hint of sigils or claws or anything.

Stiles scowled at the professor. “Are you here for my detention?”

The man quirked an eyebrow at his tone. “Kali was indisposed, so I offered to oversee the rest of your time,” he explained in an unexpectedly British accent. The placid expression on his face belied his next words. “And if you’d like to leave at four-fifteen, then you’ll modulate your tone, Mr. Stilinski.”

He bit his lip and slouched down in his chair. “Yes, sir.”

“Much better,” praised the man as he strode to the desk beside Stiles and perched atop it.

Stiles hesitated, brow furrowed in thought. “I’ve never seen you here before. What should I call you?” Perhaps it was the sun catching him at just the right angle, but for a second, the man’s glasses seemed to reflect a beam of almost blinding light.

“My friends call me Deucalion. You may call me Professor Mancuso or Professor.”

“Mancuso? Like my mom’s family?”

“The very same.”

“Are you related to me?” Stiles scrutinized the man from the top of his blondish head to the soles of his brown oxfords. Professor Mancuso was clean, neatly dressed, and definitely not ugly, but he was much more white, without any signs of the dark complexion so common in mother’s family. Even with his dad’s blond hair and Polish ancestry, Stiles had inherited the Mancuso’s dark brown hair and eyes, and during the summers his tan had caused more than one person to mistake him for one of Scott’s many cousins. “You have a British accent,” he accused. “And you don’t look very much like us.”

“Such skepticism in your young age. That should serve you well.” He crossed his legs and adjusted the cuffs of his sweater. “I spent a great deal of time in England. I’m afraid they corrupted me. And no, I wouldn’t look much like you, but you’re the fruit of a very distant branch.” The professor chuckled to himself as though he’d told a particularly funny joke.

“Right…” Adult’s jokes were so weird and unfunny. “Mom never told me that I had a relative working at my school,” Stiles said suspiciously. “You’re pretty weird for a professor. I thought they were all boring like Professor Harris and the Dean.”

“I’m sure your mother never told you about me because we are so far removed that we might as well be unrelated. As for the other.” He shrugged. “We never quite saw eye to eye. They simply weren’t the sort of men who shared my priorities.”

That sounded like juicy, adults-only gossip if he’d ever heard it. “What kind of priorities?”

The expression of polite disbelief on Professor Mancuso’s face was worth a thousand words of explanation, but it seemed like he was willing to give it a try anyway. “Really?” he drawled. “Somehow I don’t think most ten year olds are interested in protecting the spirit of the Compact’s terms, how the destruction of Sealed Beasts changed the level of magic available to all demonic practitioners, the bio-magical effects of energy exchanges on demonic and semi-demonic entities, and many more besides.”

“Umm.” On second thought, that didn’t sound like good gossip at all. “I could be?”

He smirked. “Could you now? Then I’ll expect you to research a related topic and turn in three pages to Ennis. You have until the last day before winter break.”

Stiles’ jaw dropped. “What! You’re not even one of my actual professors. You can’t just assign extra work outside of detention. That’s not fair!”

“Oh can’t I?” He leaned back and grinned. “That’s five pages now. I’d stop grumbling before it’s more.”

Stiles could feel his lower lip do that thing when a full-on pout threatened to break out. “I guess,” he conceded unhappily. Stiles knew enough to recognize that he couldn’t win this one.

“Chin up,” the professor coaxed. “You have almost two months to do it, and I’m sure your mother will be thrilled you’re taking an interest in her work.”

“Maybe…” Stiles let his lip wobble experimentally.

Professor Mancuso tugged off his glasses and scrubbed a hand over his face. “Lords of Light save me from conniving children.” He shoved off his desk-perch and came to stand by Stiles, ruffling a hand over the boy’s soft curls. “What if I sweetened the deal?”

“Oh?” Stiles craned his neck until the man knelt down beside him. “Like how?”

“If you finish it early or go above the five page minimum, then I’ll make sure you get something special this Christmas. Is that enough to make you put your lip away?”

Stiles pretended to consider the offer for all of five seconds before he agreed. “Yeah, okay.” He beamed up at Professor Mancuso, long enough to see the half-grin on the man’s face then ducked his head, suddenly too shy to handle the unearned fondness from his “we might as well be unrelated” relative. The tips of Stiles’ ears heated in embarrassment, and he stared down at the desk graffiti in fascination. “So…” he peeked up through his lashes. “What are you getting me?”

“Little devil,” Professor Mancuso said admiringly. “Lords and Princes know what your mother was doing naming you after an angel.”

“Hey!” Stiles protested. “Hardly anyone knows my name—they really think that someone named me Stiles Stilinksi. How do you know my name?”

“Now that would be telling, young Sariel.”

Chapter Text

The needle glittered under the bright laboratory lights. Stiles blew out a harsh breath and brought it down, hard and fast. For long moments, he felt no pain. Then it began to throb, a deep, pulsing pain as red blood welled to the surface. It clung to Stiles’ skin until he tensed the muscles in his fingers. He squeezed out three exact drops to land in the waiting iron bowl. With quick motions, he stirred in the ground devil’s trumpet and angelica, along with the unlabeled powders and unguents Professor Mancuso passed to him, then laid it within a triangle of ash, birch, and hawthorn sticks. Once satisfied with the placement, he tore a fire sigil-strip from his workbook and ripped it over the bowl. Stiles held his breath, waiting for both ends to land. Blue fire sparked to life, but as the fire consumed more of the fuel the exact hue of the flames shifted. He watched them change from blue to violet and finally settle on a dark plum.

Spooked at the result, Stiles turned wide-eyed to Professor Mancuso. “But I don’t understand!” he squeaked, voice cracking. “It was so long ago that any demonic bloodline shouldn’t matter anymore. None of the other tests come up positive.”

The tiny purple fire cast strange shadows over his face, turning the tutor Stiles had known for two years into something remote and icy. The moment passed like a cloud over the sun, and his face returned to its usual friendly openness.

“Ahh, and that’s because this is designed to test mortal blood for a demonic lineage. It’s looking for a mixture, so it’s all purple for demon-born even if you have as much as the most recent crop of Hales. Negative results are indicated with bright green flames. Amusingly this is one time that full-demons and mortals share the same classification.” A brief chuckle escaped him. “But don’t worry about testing positive this once. Unlike the Hales, you don’t have a recent enough demonic ancestor to trigger any offensive wards or hexes keyed to demons.”

Stiles frowned in consideration, “Weird. But why would anyone need this spell?”

The professor cocked his head. “For many years, there was no way to ascertain someone’s true lineage. There were some years when it became,” here he paused, his mouth twisting into an ugly sneer, “a fad to claim a demonic bloodline. But you can be sure that very few real demon-born exist.”

“And that was important for people. And me. To know.”

“It was. For many reasons, Stiles.” He skimmed his hand over Stiles’ buzzed scalp. “One of your better known ancestors created this spell for research. Lucia Mancuso was an early pioneer in the field of magical genetics, and her brother, Angelo Mancuso had a great passion for history—genealogies to be precise. Together they made huge strides in what knowledge we do have on the magical capacity of demon-born.”

The fire burned itself out, and Stiles broke the triangle of sticks surrounding the sticky mess of charcoal and goo. It looked like tar and would probably take ages to scrub. “I guess I can see how that’s important. You and the books said that all the big wars between mortals and demons started because demons eat magic to survive and mages are the tastiest kind of demon snack.”

Professor Mancuso let out a long-suffering sigh. “I suppose that’s correct, although I certainly never phrased it in such a way.” Stiles grinned up at the man and nudged him companionably. “You’ve already had the lectures about all objects and beings having energy, so I won’t bore you by repeating it. But the key point here is that mages were kidnapped and pressed into service for the infernal courts, compelled to spend their magic and life force as food.”

Stiles began scrubbing at the bowl with the magically inert soap provided by the school lab. There was no need to take needless risks like Sacred Chalice and use organic, herbal soap. What kind of sane mages were that careless? That’s how you wound up with mildly sentient lab equipment, and hell nope. Claudia Stilinski didn't raise any fools.

“Well, I’m sure some super smart demon thought of this years ago, but it wasn’t in the reading. So like, if demons were after magic, then why didn’t they just bond with each other and do magic? They had way more than we do before the Sealed Beast Wars, and they still do.”

“Oh, very good, Stiles.” Professor Mancuso beamed at him in a rare and genuine pleasure, and Stiles basked in the full glow of that approval. “Someone’s been reading ahead of the curriculum.”

Stiles ducked his head, pleased that he was able to impress such an exacting tutor. “Yeah, well. It’s stupid that we don’t learn more about this until fourth year.”

“It is,” he agreed. “Monumentally stupid, but I’m not in charge of your textbooks. More’s the pity.” Profess Mancuso sighed and nudged his glasses up. “For all that demons are magical beings, a few degrees removed from divinity, they are unable to feed on each other’s magical energy for prolonged periods of time. No one has ever learned why, and perhaps it is simply the natural order of things. Perhaps it is a punishment. Perhaps… perhaps the why doesn’t matter.” He fell silent.

“Professor, you were saying?” Stiles prodded.

The professor roused himself from his thoughts. “My apologies,” he murmured. “But either way, demons feeding on each other leads to a sort of starvation. They become unable to process the “nutrients” in each other’s magic, and continuing these meals will lead to sickening and eventual death by starvation.” His face closed off, unbearable in its neutrality. “It is a terrible and ignoble end.”

Stiles swallowed and rubbed his hand hard in the middle of his chest. He didn’t ask who the professor had known or what horrible things he was remembering. Some things weren’t his business. He tried to move the conversation to something less awful. “So… so that’s why the Compact happened. Because the mages won, but they didn’t win enough to just lock up all the demons again?”

“An oversimplification, but true enough. You’ll learn about in vivid detail. Professor Baccari has always been good at painting a picture.” Professor Mancuso gave a short laugh. “But here we return to the part of the story you know. Some mages, the strongest ones, became summoners, able to support a demon bondmate without shortening their mortal lifespans. In return, they gained the ability to channel the raw stuff of the cosmos. The magical fiber of reality. People always forget that demons were among the first of God’s creations.”

The professor was typically indulgent, but today he seemed to be in a mood. Stiles went to the lab table and began packing the last of the tools in awkward silence, casting about for a good way to bring the conversation back to the original lesson. “You said Lucia and Angelo were researching the demon-born and their capabilities. They were researching their magic, if demons could digest it.”

“Oh very good. Full marks.” He laid a hand on Stiles’ arm, stopping him from fidgeting with the athame instead of putting it away. “Do sit still, Stiles. I’m sorry for being so touchy today. You’d think I was raised by wolves.”

When he snorted to himself, Stiles was ready for it. After being repeatedly forced into doing extra schoolwork that later turned into formal tutoring sessions, Stiles was resigned to the man laughing at the most boring jokes. They weren’t even real jokes as far as Stiles could tell. Professor Mancuso was so weird sometimes, but still cool more often than not. And he never treated Stiles like a baby, not even as he cupped Stiles’ elbow and helped him onto one of the shiny chrome stools.

“But they can, right? They have to be able to have demon-born magic, or I wouldn’t be at school to be a summoner, since that’s the big perk demons get out of the bond.”

“Just so, my boy. Any mage who shows positive results to the Mancuso Proof of Lineage has enough demonic magic to be detected, which means they’re a better candidate to make supplication at the circle of troth. Most importantly, they are absolutely safe for demon consumption. And not only are they safe, they’re optimal from the demon’s point of view. Some have said that the difference between mortal and demon-born magic is like the difference between hamburger and prime rib. Demon-born magic is known to be better in “flavor”, and it’s much more efficient fuel.”

“Wow, so I’m like hella high octane magic. Suck it Jackson.” Stiles pumped his fist. “This is what mom researches too. Will it be in the later books?”

“This information may be found in the driest of the dry academic journals. And there’s the fact that it’s widely accepted but still controversial because it’s a very rare mortal that wants to mate with a demon.”

“Oh.” Stiles made a face. “People are really dumb then. We’ve been working with demons for centuries. We bond with demons. Permanently. They’re just like mortal people. Mom’s family is super famous and powerful because of the Ancestor. How is it bad to marry demons?”

“Your open mind does you credit, Stiles.” The professor wrapped an arm around his shoulders and squeezed. “And you’re not as alone as you once were in this opinion. It’s true that the common attitudes shifted at a glacial pace, but I think that the Hales will be the push we need to prove that mixed families can work and thrive in these modern times.”

Stiles glanced over, from the corner of his eye and commented, “You’re really into politics aren’t you?” Most of their lessons had some sort of ideological spin to them. When Stiles reported on his tutoring sessions, his parents sighed a lot and looked at each other, but they never disagreed with Professor Mancuso’s opinion. No matter how much his dad would huff and refer to him darkly as “that man”.

Professor Mancuso shrugged. “As you grow older, you’ll find that what seems political often stems from the personal. And my feelings for demons are quite notorious in certain circles. There has been much evil from mortal and demon alike, but our fortunes are tied now. A decline in demonic power is a decline in mortal power, and both sides must address it with vigor and a commitment to succeed.”

At those words, Stiles felt the world dip and sway around him like all of reality had shifted and clicked into place with a new configuration. “I want to help you,” Stiles blurted out, still dizzy from that strange moment. “I think you’re right, and I’ll do whatever I can to fix it. So you have to teach me.”

“I tell you about this today, and you want to help,” Professor Mancuso repeated in an oddly flat voice. “Just like that?”

“I do! I swear it.” Stiles stared into the professor’s eyes, wishing for once to see them without the shield of his glasses, and willed him to believe.

“Careful there, Stiles.” A brief smile flitted across Professor Mancuso’s face. “You know better than to swear so close to volatile materials. And you never know who’s listening that will hold you to it.”

“I don’t care,” Stiles declared recklessly, heart pounding with a rush of confusing emotions. “I meant it now, and I’ll mean it later. I’m not too young to understand that it’s important.”

“No,” he mused. “I don’t suppose you are.”

“So you’ll help me,” Stiles demanded. “You’ll teach me enough to be useful?”

“Hmm.” The professor leaned back on the neighboring table and stared at Stiles like he was weighing his soul. “Your usefulness was never in question, but I suppose if you’re going to be my new ally in this, you can’t call me Professor Mancuso all the time.”

“What—wait really?” Stiles brightened. The man was so oddly formal that Stiles had expected to call him Professor Mancuso until they were both old and grey.

He extended his right hand and took Stiles’ very properly. “Hello, Stiles. My friends call my Deucalion. I’ll be pleased to accept your help.” Stiles nearly vibrated in excitement as he shook Deucalion’s hand in return.

“I’ll work really hard. I promise. You won’t regret it, Deuc!”

Deucalion sighed and dropped his free hand on top of Stiles’ head. “Nicknames already? I see how it’s going to be from here on out,” he teased. “It’s an ill wind that blows.”

Stiles dove for his teacher, his friend, and squeezed him tight. “Yeah, it’s gonna be awesome,” he crowed as one of Deuc’s arms curled around him.

He would show Deucalion. Stiles would be the best student ever and make him proud. Together they were going to change the world. That was the promise of a lifetime.

Claudia’s head shot up, when the front door banged open with Stiles’ arrival.

“Mom! Mom!” he yelled. Stiles bounded over to the couch and threw himself down, across her lap. “Guess what happened today?”

She untangled the backpack straps where he’d only halfway freed himself before flopping on top of her. “Hmm. Did something happen with the professor?” Claudia recognized that it was significant and strange that she and John never called their “relative” by his bare, Christian name, but she simply couldn’t—especially without his express invitation. The very thought of it threatened to give her hives.

“It’s the best, Mom!”

Claudia smiled down at the back of Stiles’ head and stroked his soft, buzzed hair. Most boys wouldn’t be caught dead snuggling with their mothers at this age, so she’d enjoy it before the full chaos of the teenage years started. “Why don’t you tell me about it, sweetie?”

In a flurry of limbs, Stiles turned himself over to beam up at her without any self-consciousness. “We did a test on my blood for our lab today. The Mancuso Proof of Lineage. Then he told me some of the history about it and all the demon wars with kidnapping mages.”

“Oh. Did he now?” She felt her smile freeze in place. “It’s a little earlier than the curriculum teaches it, but it’s a good thing to know.”

Stiles nodded furiously. “He said it was stupid that there are so many things we don’t learn.” He motioned for her to bend closer, and she obliged. “He got kind of sad or upset today? I think someone he knows died? Or got hurt. I said he was kind of political, but he said something about the political being the personal. Which makes sense I guess?”

“That’s very wise of him. And I hope you didn’t ask him any impertinent questions?”

“Mom! Of course I wouldn’t.”

“That’s because you’re a good, sweet boy who is always polite,” she agreed and patted his cheek.

“Uggh.” He rolled to his side and buried his face in her stomach. “Anyway,” he continued, voice now muffled. “He told me some of why demon-born are important to demons and how we’re better for bonding. And I told him that I wanted to help him. Like you do with your research.”

“See,” she teased. “The sweetest boy.”

“Mom, I’m being serious,” Stiles groaned into her shirt. “But!” He scooted back just enough to peek up. “I haven’t told you the best part!”

She played along. “And what’s that?”

“Remember when we first met, and he said his friends called him Deucalion but I could call him Professor or Professor Mancuso? Well…” Stiles sucked in a few deep breaths. “Today, after I swore to help him fix things for demons, he reintroduced himself!”

If Claudia wasn’t mistaken, then her little angel was blushing. “Did he? And what did that involve?”

In his excitement, he unleashed a torrent of happy babble. “He shook my hand like I was grown up, and then he said that I couldn’t call him Professor Mancuso all the time if we’re allies. So he told me to call him Deucalion like his friends do! And he let me call him Deuc!”

Her mind blanked. “He let you call him… that?”

“Yeah! It’s awesome, Mom. And he said we could meet for extra lessons more often if you and Dad are okay with it! It’s like school, so you have to say you’re okay. Please, Mom,” Stiles tilted his head back further and let her feel the full weight of his big, pleading eyes. “You’ll help me talk to Dad about it, right? I don’t think he likes Deuc very much.”

Claudia bit her lip. “Oh, Sariel. You’re growing up so fast.” She tried out a slightly wobbly smile, but he didn’t seem to notice. “Of course I approve. We’ll make sure your dad understands why this is so important to you.”

“You’re the best, Mom!” Stiles squirmed around to wrap his arms around her middle. “Thank you so much! I promise that I’ll still get all my regular school stuff done, and it won’t be a burden or anything.”

“I know you will. Otherwise you’ll be back to extra lessons once a week,” she warned.

“Thanks, Mom! I’m gonna do my homework now.” In a burst of puppyish glee, he untangled himself from her and the couch and pelted upstairs.

“Well,” she muttered in amusement. “At least this has him excited to do homework.”

Claudia had asked for so much from the Ancestor without knowing what it all might mean. She had expected to lose her son all at once, at sixteen, not by these slow inches. She wasn’t certain which was worse, but she couldn’t make herself do anything to rob the light from Stiles’ eyes—even if it would give her more time with her son.

Then she laughed at herself and her spasm of self-pity. “This is what you asked for, Claudia. Whether you knew it or not.” She snorted. “John’s going to be mad as a wet hen over all of this.”

She reached for the silvery sigils tattooed in a wide circle around her neck. They looked like flat, shiny scar tissue and had hurt like hellfire when she’d had the bright idea to have them all done at once.

Claudia traced the curve of them down to her left clavicle and spoke to the air, “Emilia.” Almost before the last syllable left her mouth, the air beside her shimmered, and the moon-pale demon appeared, sitting on the neighboring section of couch. “That was quick.” Claudia turned a disapproving look onto her bondmate. “I assume you were listening to that conversation with my son?”

“When do I ever turn down the opportunity to play voyeur?” Emilia tossed her long, platinum-white hair. “Sariel is in for an interesting courtship.” Claudia bit her lip at the mention of the courtship she’d kept pretending would happen at some far off point in the future. Today’s events meant that she had to submit to the reality: the future was now. In truth, the Ancestor had been courting her son since the first time he’d deigned to appear at Immaculate Light and have a conversation with a suspicious ten year old boy.

Always attuned to her emotions, Emilia picked up Claudia’s hand and held it with infinite gentleness. “You have nothing to fear, Claudia. You know that he’ll care for your son in every way. He will lack for nothing with Deucalion by his side. Already, he takes such pleasure in the boy’s accomplishments and his agile mind.”

“I know. He’s the Ancestor. He’s spent centuries caring for us when he didn’t have to.” Claudia sagged sideways against Emilia, enduring the familiar jab of her bony elbow. “In a bit, I’d like you to carry a message for me, but for now I’m going to feel sorry for myself—just for a while.”

“Of course.” Emilia scooted closer to Claudia, a warm presence at her side. “Far be it from me to interfere with that process.”

The sat in silence for several minutes before Emilia spoke again. “Oh, Claudia…” she murmured. “Did I tell you that I checked on John during his lunch break? Would you believe he was going to eat something with “triple bypass” in the name? I convinced him that it wouldn’t be in his best interests, but it was… how do you say it? A near occasion of sin.”

Claudia bolted upright, spine stiff enough to rival any young lady from a Regency novel. “You can’t be serious!” She whipped her phone out of her pocket. In a full temper, she punched at the screen and brought up her contacts. “Oh!” Claudia took a sharp breath. She turned to look at the demon, and paused when she saw the smug grin.

Emilia laughed. “It was a good distraction, right?”

“Was it even true?” Claudia tried to be upset that the ploy had worked.

“Oh, very true,” Emilia promised. “John’s very sorry for his almost lapse.”

“You’re a good friend.” Claudia said and hugged her demon, one of her oldest friends. “I suppose you can just let himself know that Stiles gave me the news, and we expect him to follow certain guidelines with all these extra lessons.”

“It’ll all work out.” Emilia assured her with one last pat on the back. “Now you can call John and chew him out properly.”

“Will you be having dinner with him?”

“Probably. He likes to hear about Stiles.” Emilia rolled her dark eyes. “Honestly, all of you should just exchange phone numbers. It’s not as though he doesn’t have one.” She lifted her hand and tugged the telluric currents. “Ridiculous, the lot of you,” she muttered and stepped away with a subtle pulse of magic.

“Exchange phone numbers,” Claudia repeated in a faint voice. “Oh yes. Excellent idea. I’ll get right on that.”

Chapter Text

If a person could fold clothes in grim resignation, then Stiles had found the way to accomplish it. After four years to get used to Deuc, his parents were still so strange about him. His dad never seemed to let go of his suspicion that good and decent men didn’t just offer to tutor distant relations for nothing. For all that his mom acted pleased that he’d taken Stiles under his wing, she still had the funniest reactions whenever she called him by name. You’d probably hear her refer to the Pope as “Frank” before she’d think of calling Deuc by his Christian name—much less a nickname the way Stiles did.

But his dad… his dad was the worst offender.

It was the weekend after his fourteenth birthday, and they were going camping in the Preserve today. They’d had it planned for months, but now his dad decided this was a great time to change his mind and freak out.

All I’m saying is that you could start your practicum next year with your classmates. With a different teacher.

Ugh. Why would his dad even bring it up when he already knew what Stiles would say? There was no way in hell he’d give up on the chance to do a work study with Deuc. He’d already taught Stiles so much. Without his help, Stiles might not have kept his spot at the top of his class. He was hours ahead of his yearmates in lab time and had received special dispensation to begin his practicum. This was supposed to be a fun reward for working so hard this past summer.

Stiles glared at the blue walls of his room, half-covered by his experiment boards and various academic awards. His dad should have been proud of what he’d accomplished. Stiles continued his sightless glaring and stuffed whatever came to hand into the leather bag, a birthday gift from his mentor, until a familiar, warm drawl interrupted him.

“Stiles, you do realise that you’ve packed the contents of your sock drawer and no trousers?”

Just like that, he jolted out of his bad temper. “Wha—Deuc!” Stiles dropped his pixelated Minecraft socks and spun around to face a shocking, never-before-seen creature: Deucalion Mancuso in casual attire. For their camping trip he’d exchanged his “sweater dad” uniform for a black fleece jacket, jeans, tinted glasses, and beat up boots.

“I didn’t even know you owned jeans,” Stiles marveled. “When did you get here?”

Deucalion quirked an eyebrow at his surprise and laughed. “I do have other clothes, Stiles, and I arrived in time to watch you pack your pillow, all of your socks, five canisters of salt, and a left shoe.”

“Oh.” Stiles blinked. “I was distracted.”

“That much is obvious.” He clicked his tongue, poking at one of the towering mounds of junk which unearthed a pile of loose chalk. Deucalion arched a disbelieving eyebrow at him. “I’m not even going to ask, Stiles. Now let’s straighten out this mess, and we can be off.”

Stiles bent low in a courtly bow and gestured to the heap on his bed. “Have at it, boss.”

In a matter of minutes, Deucalion had cleared the mess and neatly packed his bag with minimal help from Stiles. All Stiles had really done was fetch and watch the man roll and fold his belongings with military precision. After a final check, Deuc zipped the black, leather duffel and looped the handles over his shoulder. “After you.”

“You’re really good at that. Do you think you could organize my dresser for me?”

“Don’t push it,” he mock-growled, following Stiles down the stairs.“This was simply the most expedient choice.”

“But Deuc, I suck at it.” Stiles whined. He twisted around to face Deuc and pushed out his lower lip in an ostentatious pout. He let it tremble for good measure. “Please?”

Quick as a flash, Deucalion tweaked his protruding lip bopped him on top of the head. “What have I told you about pouting, Stiles?” he asked with some amusement shading his voice. “Put that lip away before it gets you in more trouble.”

“Oh whatever,” he grumbled as Deuc dropped a hand on the back of his neck and applied gentle pressure as a reminder to keep walking. “It was worth a shot.”

“Your mother would agree with the philosophy of ‘nothing ventured nothing gained’, but she still wants you to learn some sense of personal responsibility.”

“Rude.” Stiles stuck his tongue out in retaliation, but sucked it back in as his mom came into view. “Hi, Mom! Bye, Mom!”

“Stiles!” his mom scolded. “Don’t be disrespectful to the professor when he’s taking time out of his schedule to oversee your practicum. You’re lucky to have one-on-one supervision.”

“I don’t mind a little high spirits, Claudia,” Deucalion protested. “He’ll know if I have a problem with his behavior.”

Her eyes darted between their faces. Stiles never knew what it was that she saw in them, but he’d finally decided that this look on her face meant rueful amusement. “Oh, I have no doubt of that.” She turned to Stiles cupped his face between her soft, inkstained hands. “My baby angel’s growing up and going on his practicum.” She hugged him hard. “Now be good on this trip and do everything the professor says. I’ve talked to your dad around, but don’t think we won’t discuss options if I don’t hear that you were the perfect angel I named you for.”

“Uggh. Mom.” Stiles whined. “I’m fourteen.”

“I know you are.” She released him, after a few cheek kisses for good measure, then tried to discreetly dab at the corners of her eyes. “Have fun, sweetie. I’ll miss you. And don’t forget to call when you arrive.”

“It’s only a week! You and dad will be too busy being gross and kissing wherever you want to miss me.”

“Lies and slander.” She smiled at him, and it was a shock to realise that their eyes were almost level. “Have a safe trip, Professor,” she called over Stiles’ shoulder. “Take care of my baby.”

Deucalion inclined his chest in the suggestion of a bow. “Of course, Claudia. He’ll come to no harm in my care. I swear it… and you have my number as well. For emergencies.”

Stiles rolled his eyes at the emphasis on emergencies. Everyone worried way too much about him.

The car ride to the Preserve had passed quickly as Stiles pelted Deuc with questions. He’d been so excited that he couldn’t make himself sit still. Even hours spent getting a feel for telluric currents hadn’t managed to put a damper on his mood.

Dry leaves crunched under their boots as Stiles concentrated on the current they were following. All the walking had generated a lot of heat, but the December day was still cool enough that he wished he’d worn his hooded jacket for another layer over his ears. Strangely, he wasn’t tired at all, even with carrying the pack Deucalion had given him. Like the books said, the currents were a huge, renewable source of energy that anyone with the training could use.

“Much better, Stiles,” Deuc praised him. “Just like that. Steady sips at regular intervals. There’s no need to be greedy or wasteful. Take only what you need.”

“Sir, yes, Sir!” Stiles snapped out. The cheeky response covered his internal happy puppy wriggle at Deuc’s approval. “This is awesome,” he gushed. “Do other people do this a lot? Just follow the currents and recharge?”

“I’m sure more people would do it if they could, but purely mortal mages can’t use the magic in the same way we can.”

“Wait. You mean this isn’t normal?” Stiles stopped, eyes huge in honest surprise. “Oh my god! We can eat magic. I’m eating magic.”

“You can’t be that shocked, Stiles. The demonic legacy had to do something. This is simply one of several useful aspects.” Deucalion clasped the back Stiles’ neck in encouragement. “Not that I’d advise doing this in lieu of physical nourishment, but it can mean the difference between life and death to access the energy hidden in the world around you. Once you learn to stop taking in those great gulps of ambient magic, you might not need your Adderall anymore.”



“It may be possible, but I can’t promise anything,” Deuc admitted. “The ADHD diagnosis is rather modern, but there’s some anecdotal evidence that many of the common symptoms ease once the demon-born mage learns to consume magic only by design. We’ll see how you do after a month of proper control, and then I’m sure your parents will schedule you to see the doctor for an evaluation.”

Pounding hoof beats broke the relative quiet, coupled with the snap of branches and the rush of birds taking flight. Several meters ahead of their path, a panicked deer burst from the brush—followed by a stocky man with a suspiciously toothy grin. The man was dressed lightly for the weather, just jeans and a thin, olive green sweater topped off with a grey knit cap that covered light brown hair. Without a hint of acknowledgement, the man sprang towards the deer and snapped its neck in one clean twist.

Stiles goggled at the efficient violence they’d witnessed and sidled closer to Deuc when the man continued to ignore them in favor of dragging the deer away from the telluric current and pulling a knife out of nowhere. “Hey, Deuc,” he whispered. “I’m not sure about the protocol on this, but should we… say hi or something?”

Deucalion gazed down at him and gave him one of many looks that Stiles had categorized as “inscrutable but vaguely fond”. “A strange demon pulls out a knife and you wonder if we should say hi. Only you, Stiles.”

“That’s not weird!” he hissed back. “That’s smart. I’d be all for skulking away from people with knives, but he’s seen us already. Maybe being polite will keep me from getting my neck snapped next.”

“As though I’d ever allow such a thing to happen!” Deuc declared in such offended tones that Stiles snickered. “Luckily, that’s Peter Hale, and he’s no danger to us.” He gestured to the spot where Peter was efficiently field dressing his steaming deer carcass. “After you.”

Despite his offer to follow Stiles, Deucalion was the one who led them to greet Peter, tugging Stiles in his wake. “Good morning, Hale.” Deuc nodded and flicked his fingers at Peter’s kill. “That’s a lovely deer. Poaching again I see.”

“It’s not poaching if you own the land.” Peter flashed his teeth at them in a devilish grin. “Took you long enough to bring your cub over, Old Wolf. Afraid I’d want to stake a claim?”

“Hardly.” Deuc sniffed in disdain, as prissy as Professor Harris at his worst. “It will be a sad day before I’m afraid of some jumped-up prince of hell with delusions of grandeur. Your sister on the other hand… now there’s a demon.”

“You never change, Mancuso. ” Peter rolled his eyes so far back that Stiles figured a mere mortal would have sprained something. “Are you just going to stand there or are going to introduce me to your boy?”

Deucalion guided Stiles to his side with the hand he’d left on his shoulder. “Stiles Stilinski. This is Peter Hale, demon prince and thorn in my side.” Pale blue fire sparked over Peter’s hands, cleansing them of blood, as he stood up and approached them.

Cautiously, Stiles looked between the two men who were still glaring at each other and blinked several times when his reserved and erudite teacher dissolved into boyish laughter with his friend. It seemed ridiculous that he’d mistaken their fake antagonistic exchange for anything but friendly ritual. Especially now that they were in the middle of some aggressive, full-contact hugging, complete with excessive back-slapping.

“How are you, you old bastard? I haven’t seen you since before you’d picked up a child-sized parasite.”

“I’m quite well, Peter. Better than I’ve been in an age.” Deucalion released Peter and stepped back. “And please, don’t refer to Stiles as a parasite. He’s a lovely student.” Deuc winked at Stiles, sending blood rushing to his face. “Much smarter and less troublesome than you.”

“Oh, well how do you like that? All it takes is acquiring a minion to start insulting one of your oldest friends. In that case, I’ll take three.”

“Stiles is hardly a minion. Besides, when have I ever needed an excuse to insult you?” Deuc grinned at Peter with an ease and comfort that Stiles rarely had a chance to see. Here in the Preserve, with a friend, this was the most casual that Deuc had ever allowed himself to act in front of Stiles.

Peter smirked at Stiles. “You’ve been quiet for a while. Wolf got your tongue?” He dodged, light on his feet, when Deucalion aimed a blow at his head.

“Nah,” Stiles replied, not commenting on their byplay. “I’ve just never seen Deuc act like this with anyone. He’s kind of prickly. And stiff. When he isn’t telling me what to do.”

“Oooh. So Deuc is stiff and prickly is he?” Peter slinked over to Stiles with a hypnotic sway to his hips. He didn’t stop until they were touching sides, one arm curled around Stiles’ waist. His eyes widened when the intimate hold meant that the only thing separating Stiles from the hard planes of Peter’s body was the thin sweater and its scandalously low neckline. With a clawed hand, Peter tipped up Stiles’ chin, so he could speak directly into his ear. “Tell me every detail, no matter how small. Leave nothing out.”

Stiles shivered at the feel of sharp claws pressing against his skin, so close to his throat. That… felt interesting and like something he was not going to think about. Stiles opened and closed his mouth, certain that his face had turned purple in mortification.

“Umm….” Peter couldn’t really be asking him about that could he? Stiles’ thoughts skittered away at the new and exciting sensation of a handsome man coiled around him like a particularly affectionate snake. “How do you know each other?” Stiles asked when he could finally put a sentence together.

Peter chuckled into his hair, hot breath gusting over Stiles’ sensitive earlobe. “I met him when he was a young man… I suppose you could say it was school. He was so fun to needle and always had the most amusing reactions.”

“So why do you call him Old Wolf?” Stiles squirmed in Peter’s arms, but the demon seemed to think that he was some kind of stuffed animal.

“Shhh, Stiles,” Peter soothed. “I know you’re new at this, but body pillows don’t move.”

Stiles huffed and shoved harder, cheeks puffing out with effort. After a brief, unsuccessful attempt at prying Peter’s arm off of him, Stiles admitted defeat. “Deuc,” he whined. “A little help?”

“Oh, you mortals. Always spoiling my fun,” complained Peter. Still, he released Stiles with a good-natured pat on the head. “Now as for calling him Old Wolf…” Peter took this moment to notice Deucalion’s arched eyebrow and faint aura of menace. “You know, I can’t really remember how that started,” he finished unconvincingly.

“Why do I get the feeling that was a lie?”

Deucalion cuffed him lightly. “Because you’re a clever boy, Stiles. But you’re also clever enough to know when something is private aren’t you?”

Something in Stiles shriveled at the censure in Deuc’s voice. “Yes, Deuc. I won’t pry.” If he blinked a little fast and his lip pushed out the tiniest bit, then these actions were beyond his control.

“Very nice use of what Father gave you. I approve.” Peter laughed and gave Deucalion a knowing look. “Be sure not to give this one everything he wants with a flutter of those lashes.”

“Don’t you have a deer to handle?” Deucalion groused. “Stiles and I did have plans today. He’s just started his practicum, and I wanted to make it at least another mile before we stopped for lunch.”

“You used to be more fun.” Peter shook his head sadly. “Ah well. I can see when I’m not wanted.” He placed a hand over his heart, as though fighting a terrible agony. “I’ll just take care of my deer, as you so coldly reminded me, and bugger off.”

Deucalion glared at the outrageous over-acting. His left eyebrow twitched twice, and he sighed his most put-upon sigh. It was a sigh Stiles had heard so many times that he considered it an old friend. Deucalion sighed once more. “It’s not nearly as cute when you’re the one pouting at me.”

Peter sniffed. “Four years without even a phone call and suddenly everyone’s a critic.”

“Oh, don’t even start,” Deucalion snapped. “Put your deer away and then you can join us. I’m sure a demon of your caliber will be able to follow our trail with no problems.”

“Hmph. Spending time with schoolchildren has done nothing for your manners, Mancuso.” Peter traced a symbol in the air, too fast for Stiles to identify, but nothing happened. Puzzled, Stiles whipped around to Deuc for answers, but the man just smirked and shook his head at Peter.

“It’ll be a thousand years before you can catch me with a hex like that, Peter.”

“You always were faster than me, but hope springs eternal.” With a wink at Stiles he said, “Listen to your teacher. You’ll do better than most mages if you grow to be half as fast as the Old Wolf.” Advice dispensed, Peter raised a hand in a farewell and made a grasping motion like he was clawing at the air. The deer sank into the earth, leaving the soil undisturbed, and in the blink of an eye, Peter disappeared, swept away by the telluric current.

Stiles tilted his head side-to-side. That had certainly been an experience. “Old friend, huh?” He scrupulously avoided eye contact to hide the fact that he was bursting with horribly invasive questions.

“The best of friends.”

They continued on their way, to whatever destination Deucalion had chosen.

“So… what’s in a mile? Is it food?” Stiles’ stomach rumbled. “Not that I’m hungry or anything. Just curious.” He glanced at Deuc long enough to shoot him a good effort at his Oliver Twist smile. The trick was in the eyes. Stiles worked years to perfect the subtle, guileless implication of “Please, Sir, I want some more” as opposed to his more typical Huck Finn “Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day” sort of conniving.

“Just curious, eh?” The corners of Deucalion’s mouth tipped up in a slow, knowing grin.

Stiles flushed and made a show of adjusting his backpack straps. “Oh yeah,” he agreed. “I just wondered if we’d be going far enough that my aged teacher would require my assistance.”

“Brat,” Deuc said fondly and sighed. “You should be happy that your parents disapprove of corporal punishment.”

“You don’t mean that,” Stiles shot back. “I’m a delight. I heard you tell Mr. Harris that last week.”

The only response to Stiles’ retort was the rustle of leaf litter as Deuc stalked forward with a huff. Stiles laughed, buoyant with cheer. He had started his practicum, and everything was beautiful, but if anyone asked him… he’d have to admit that the best part of this trip was seeing this new side of Deuc. Although Deucalion claimed him as a friend, Stiles had never quite dared to hope that Deuc would be so relaxed as to drift down from his lofty teacher position and truly act like a peer instead of a mentor or a sort of third parent. Stiles hoped that this behavior was the beginning of a new, more genuine friendship with the man he’d long since stopped seeing as just a teacher.

Stiles blinked drowsily at the sudden pop and shower of sparks, unable to muster the energy to jump when Peter threw a bone into the fire. He was far too comfortable, snuggling under Deuc’s arm and luxuriating in being almost too full from the venison stew Peter and Deuc had concocted. He suspected demon magic had been involved, but the meal had been too delicious for him to care overmuch.

Half-asleep, he wriggled on the strangely cushioned seating that Peter had coaxed out of the dirt. He bounced in absent-minded curiosity, testing the gel-like resistance until he almost overbalanced, but Deuc’s arm tightened around him, practically pulling Stiles into his lap. When a warm hand began to rub soothing circles on his back, it was easy to slip into a half-doze.

Peter laughed and the fire popped again. “Someone looks cozy.”

“Do shut up. He’s had a long day.”

“Mmm. He’s not the only one. Maybe it’s time for all good children to be tucked into bed.”

Stiles grumbled and turned his face into Deuc’s shoulder. Moving anywhere, even the sleeping bags, sounded like the opposite of what he wanted to do.

“Ugh. I could almost hate you for how sweet you two look. My poor black heart can’t take anymore of this.”

“Why thank you, Peter. You’re charming as ever,” Deuc scoffed. The hand on Stiles’ back never stopped its gentle touch. “It was good to see you again, old friend.”

“Of course it was. I’m perfect in every way.”

“Of course, Peter. Simply marvelous.” Deuc paused. “Good night.”

“It was good to meet your student.” The silence lasted long enough for Stiles to think that Peter had finally gone. He would fallen off his seat in surprise if Deuc hadn’t been holding on to him when Peter spoke again, this time much closer. “I’m glad for you… I thought you’d never get over losing her. Stiles has been good for you.”

In a barely audible voice, Deuc murmured, “I’m not sure when I stopped missing her like a limb, but I did.”

Stiles’ heart raced to hear his teacher admit such deeply personal information with the full knowledge that he was awake to hear it; his sluggish mind poked at the possibilities—each more unlikely than the last.

“It shows. I’m glad you can be happy again, my friend.”

“Safe travels, Peter.”

Stiles listened as Peter’s footsteps fade in the distance. Deuc seemed content to rub Stiles’ back and sit by the fire, so he slid down carefully, until his head rested against Deuc’s leg. Stiles held his breath as Deuc drew his hand away. After a few tense seconds, Deuc returned to the almost paternal petting with a new assurance in every stroke.

A huge yawn cracked Stiles’ jaw, and he rubbed his cheek against the soft denim under his face, determined to enjoy this while it lasted.

Overheated and confused, Stiles jerked upright, or he would have if not for the restraint of his bedding. He sucked in deep gulps of air and tried to calm his racing heart as he took stock of his situation. Apparently, Deuc had somehow removed his shoes and outer clothes, and put him to bed, all without waking him up. Stiles was ensconced on the air mattress, in the sleeping bags that Stiles had convinced Deuc to zip together into one mega-bag—for warmth.

“Fuck,” he muttered, sinking back onto the shared mattress.

“Stiles?” Fabric rustled as Deuc crept closer. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah. I’m fine. I just woke up and got confused.”

“You were out like a light. I hope you don’t mind that I got you ready for bed.”

“Nah.” Stiles blushed, glad for the darkness that hid his face. “Sorry for falling asleep on you like that.”

“It was no trouble, Stiles.” Deuc reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “Try to go back to sleep.”

To be fair, Stiles did try. He flipped over and snuggled his pillow, staring at the twisting shadows on the tent wall, cast from the dying embers of their fire. When he sighed and turned for the third time, Deuc tugged him closer, holding Stiles still.

“Don’t make me sit on you.”

“Sorry. I just can’t settle down.”

“Do I need to give you drink of water and tell you a story?” Deuc asked dryly.

Stiles snorted. “Maybe you do. I was cheated out of campfire stories with Peter.” Shit. He hadn’t meant to refer to the conversation he’d overheard.

“I see. Is that the kind of story you’d like?”

He opened his mouth and shut it with an audible clack of his teeth. “Umm. Deuc?”

“What, too tired for your usual impertinent questions?” Deuc teased in a soft voice. “And here I thought nothing could slow you down.”

Suddenly bashful, Stiles shrugged. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to ask, but for all his good-natured cheer and personable front, Deucalion Mancuso was an intensely private man with too many dark and treacherous mental pathways for one person to live with. It was hard to curb his curiosity, but Stiles did make an effort. He didn’t always succeed, but he would rather cut out his tongue than hurt Deuc with his burning need to know everything.

Whatever this was with the mysterious She sounded like it was definitely still be a sore spot.

“S’like you said,” Stiles mumbled. “I’m clever enough to know when something is private. This sounded private.”

One of Deuc’s hands travelled up to the back of Stiles’ neck and squeezed once. Stiles shivered under the ticklish touch of Deuc’s fingertips on his nape, tracing nonsensical patterns through the peach-fuzz hair. “Thank you for your consideration, Stiles, but it’s not a secret. Just an old, painful memory.”

“You still don’t have to say.” He gave Deuc’s arm a clumsy pat. “We can just lie here or go back to sleep. Or both.” As though on cue, Stiles yawned, overcome with the urge to fall back asleep.

“It’s only fair that you know, and maybe it’s easier like this,” Deuc mused. “In the dark, while you’re half-asleep.”

Stiles made an encouraging noise and poked at Deuc until he obliged and lay flat on his back for Stiles to curl up on his shoulder. They were so close that their bare legs slid together with every movement. If Stiles had been more awake, the occasional brush of skin and bristly leg hair might have felt too intimate, but here and now it seemed fitting.

“As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I had a partner once. I’ve been through the great rite… but she died. We had several years together, but it didn’t feel like enough.”

Even half-asleep, Stiles felt the grief in those words. No one ever talked about what happened after losing a bondmate, but it must have been a terrible loss for Deuc to tell Peter that it used to feel like missing a limb.

In a hushed voice, Deuc continued, “For a time, it felt like my life, my dreams. All of it was over. For years, I isolated myself, locked in a half-life. Until I found a new purpose.” Deuc curled an arm around him and laid it on Stiles’ hair.

The implications seemed clear, but Stiles hardly dared to believe it. He cleared his throat. “A new purpose?”

“I found you, Stiles. Teaching you has been the best thing I’ve ever done. You’re the crown of my life.”

“Oh my god,” Stiles whispered. “That’s insane. You’re insane.” He snaked his arms around Deuc’s waist and hugged him as hard as his skinny limbs could handle. “I can’t even process that,”–Stiles broke off in a yawn–“right now.”

“I’m sure you’ll process it better in the morning,” Deuc replied, laughter edging his words. “Good night, Stiles.”

At that unsubtle hint, Stiles yawned again and rolled over, hugging his pillow and Deuc’s arm to his chest. He was asleep again between one breath and the next.

Chapter Text

Propelled by insults, bold claims, and an unwise portion of alcohol, a small party of miscreants snuck through the empty hallways of Immaculate Light.

Kira and Allison bent their heads together and consulted in quiet words and sharp gestures on the best way to overpower the ward alarm guarding the school’s main ritual room, the oldest section of Immaculate Light—built directly over a major intersection of ley lines.

If they weren’t caught and expelled, they’d probably be responsible for blowing California off the map.

“Have you done this before?” Scott hissed.

The two looked up and dimpled at their audience before returning to the ward. The fact that they were adorable in no way took from their air of competence.

“How are you two never in trouble?” Stiles asked in exasperation. “I don’t think you’ve even had detention before.”

Kira grinned impishly, sparks of lightning arcing over her hands. “You have no idea what kinds of things our families believe children should learn.”

“Oh, right there, Kira! Do you see it?” Allison turned back to Stiles and said, “It helps to have parents who work at the school and sometimes talk about things they shouldn’t.”

Lydia tossed her long, strawberry blonde hair. “And a best friend whose mother is on the board of trustees.”

“Nice to know what we common people are paying for.” Erika sneered at the three from her place with Derek’s group. She leaned unsteadily between Boyd and Isaac with Boyd’s oversized leather jacket draped over her bright red dress.

“Oh please. You’ve never worried about money a day in your life, Reyes. And you’re all legacies too.” Jackson rolled his eyes. “Don’t even get me started on Hale over there.”

“Jackson,” Boyd said flatly.

“Tch,” Jackson scoffed. “Whatever. You know it’s true.”

Stiles watched, wide-eyed as Boyd shut Jackson up just by saying his name. He could have done a lot with that trick when they’d first started school. Now, on a good day, Jackson was kind of, sort of, one of his friends. Funny how the good days usually coincided with the days when Jackson ran his mouth off and landed in some shit.

All of this was Jackson’s and Derek’s fault, and yet Stiles was the one forced to mediate between the two warring factions. He scowled at the backs of their overly styled hair.

“Come on, guys,” he wheedled. “Soon our lovely ladies will have the door open, and you two can settle your little wager like gentlemen.”

Derek glared at them mutely, all flaring nostrils and heaving shoulders—a towering monument to black leather and angst. “And Jackson will keep his mouth off my mother,” he growled, more puppy than predator.

“You got it big guy. Jackson has a bad habit of talking about other people’s mothers. You’d think he’d have learned by now.” Stiles shot an irritated look at Jackson.

Nervously, Scott slipped over and nudged him. Stiles sighed. His best friend stuck out like a sore thumb in his bright, red “arrest me” hoodie, and his normally tan face was pale in the moonlight. He’d never liked these adventures in delinquency as much as Stiles did.

Scott nodded towards Jackson when he curled his lip in a mostly friendly snarl. “Aren’t you supposed to be on his side?”

After that non-whispered question, Stiles decided to abandon discretion. He snorted. “Jackson can take care of himself. I’m on my side. My life won’t be worth living if Deuc catches me over here, and he always finds out. I swear he has black helicopters following me or something.”

Derek eyed him strangely at that and barked out a laugh. “You’re a weird kid, Stilinski. Black helicopters.” He shook his head. “Peter’ll like that one.”

“And… we’re in!” Kira announced, using an adorable hacker voice, spurring everyone into shuffling forward.

Stiles’ lips tightened. Derek’s reaction was weird, but not unexpected. It was just another tick in the long list of strange things about his teacher and friend, but he was finally seeing the size and shape of the puzzle.

Hadn’t that suspicion driven him here with his friends on this fool’s errand? Do this stupid and reckless thing just to see what would happen. If anything would happen. Either way, Stiles was ready to finally know what lay behind all the secrets and significant looks. He was tired of being the butt of some joke that no one had the decency to share.

Immaculate Light kept the ritual room shrouded in mystery until sixth year, when they introduced students to the leviathan that was a major Node—and for good reason. They opened the door to a dark, eldritch glow and a gust of terrible heat. Wavering mirages formed in the cavernous room. The complex runic array sparkled on black and grey stone, covering the walls and floor. Four dark pedestals stood just beyond the quarters; they gleamed in the low light cast by the massive orrery above them, predicting the next Convergence. Several of his friends gasped as the full weight of the air bore down on them, but Stiles’ attention fixed on the sweet thrum from the reservoir of arcane energies harnessed within the Node’s core. It reminded him of his lessons on sipping the ley lines, gathering power for himself and nurturing his inner magics, but only distantly. These were no roaring currents, ready to drown the unwary. Here, the energy was deep but leashed, docile. Many years of mages and students siphoning magic in dribs and drabs, venting the pressure, had soothed the beast.

A sleeping beast that they were about to poke with several sharp sticks.

They gathered around the circle in bunches of twos and threes, mapping the symbols; and in Stiles’ case, taking tentative sips of the magic swirling around them.

“So this is it.” Stiles grimaced. “Cheerful place for a wedding.”

Isaac scoffed, “Bonding isn’t marriage.”

“Oh no. Of course not,” Stiles mocked. “It’s only having someone in your head and sharing your life and magic until one of you croaks. Much more permanent and serious.”

“Legally it’s not marriage, and that’s what I mean. No one thinks of the bonding ritual as a wedding, not for decades. We don’t do arranged marriage anymore.” Isaac’s voice lowered to a sly insinuation, slithering through the soupy air to hit its mark. “Except the few holdouts for the Old Ways… but I guess you’d know all about that as a Mancuso.”

It rankled, the mixed blessing of being that family: respected and mocked in the same breath. They were the first to make bonding a true marriage, and Stiles couldn’t deny that Isaac was more right than wrong. According to family records, and the less official lore, the Mancuso clan had always been known for taking demons as lovers—or more.

Truth or not he couldn’t let Isaac score a hit without responding.

Surprisingly, Derek beat him to it. He glared at his friend and shook his head, dark eyebrows pointing in a thick vee. Unsatisfied with his wordless rebuke, Derek grumbled under his breath, and, as though the explanation had to be ripped from him, he gritted out, “One of the old names for this ritual wouldn’t be Hieros Gamos if they were the only ones. Or are you saying something about my parents too?”

“No-o,” Isaac stammered, caught flat-footed by Derek’s admonition. “I would never!”

Stiles tuned out Isaac’s urgent apologies to his half-demon friend. They all had larger concerns if they truly meant to do this.

Hieros Gamos. Holy marriage. And for the insulted honor of the Whittemore and Hale scions, they—a bunch of tipsy, untrained teenagers—had broken into the school to serve as the conclave, feeding power to the array and standing witness to these two happy unions.

In short, they were fucked.

Stiles shook his head, impatient with himself. Doubts would only ruin them now, so he had to put it aside: his fear, his annoyance, his secret hopes. Summoners had to build a wall between their minds and hearts if they expected to touch the arcane and remain whole. Only a fool would bring too much of their Self to the circle. Here, there was only power and those who could take it, bending it to their wills and merging, and Stiles meant to survive this misadventure long enough to be scolded by Deuc.

“Lydia,” Stiles called, “are we still doing pairs at each quarter?”

“Hmm. That’s probably the only chance we have of simulating a full conclave.”

“I thought since we’re mostly couples…”

“Yes.” Lydia nodded. “Good idea, Stiles. That should strengthen our purpose and hone the call.”

“Ugh. Really, Stilinski? Still trying to get my girlfriend?”

Lydia rolled her eyes. “Shouldn’t I be saying that to Derek if you’re going to stand in the circle together?” She tossed her hair, slightly limp in the heat. “It’s not every girlfriend who’d stand as a witness to her own boyfriend’s mystical bonding ceremony. Why, I’m practically a saint.”

Kira and Allison exchanged looks and giggled, which started the chain reaction of laughter at Jackson’s expense.

“Oh sure, laugh it up.” Jackson scowled. “Let’s just do this, so we can blow up California or whatever.”

Isaac smirked. “I wouldn’t worry too much about that. Not with someone’s guardian angel.”

Stiles lost his patience. “Oh just get in position, Isaac.”

With a minimum of squabbling, the pairs joined hands: Scott and Kira in the East, Allison and Isaac in the South, Stiles and Lydia in the West, Boyd and Erica in the North, and Derek and Jackson in the center.

For a moment, a shared terror seemed to take them, and they clutched each other’s hands, but they’d come too far to back down.

Boyd broke the silence and asked the question, “Are we really doing this or not?”

No one answered.

“Derek? Jackson?”

Stiles scowled when they ignored Scott. “Come on guys. Yay or nay? Are you getting hitched, or are we going home?”

Derek and Jackson eyed each other as though waiting to see which would be the first to break.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Erica muttered. “Would somebody do something already?”

With a deep breath, Stiles began the invocation, “I invoke and call upon thee, O Dis Pater,
God of death and lord of the underworld.”

Wind swirled around them as he spoke, encouraging them to join him. In unison, they said, “I invite you into my circle. Touch us. Change us. Make us whole. I invoke and call upon thee, O Kore. Unnamed and mysterious. Lady of the underworld. I invite you into my circle. Touch us. Change us. Make us whole.”

The wind shifted, some went to Derek and Jackson. All of it should have gone there, but the rest shot towards Stiles, playing over his skin and hair, shielding him from the oppressive heat. He bit his lip. This shouldn’t be happening, but no one else seemed to notice.

Power built under their feet as they continued the invocation, “Ye mighty ones. Lords of the watchtowers of the universe, dread lords of the outer spaces, we invite you to our meeting.”

They paused, as ritual prescribed, and the symbols chiseled into the inner circle began to shimmer. A soft bell chimed, one then another and another, until they were surrounded by the tinkling of silver. Layers of noise built, louder and louder, assaulting them with a tremendous sound. Just as it grew approached unbearable, the din came to an abrupt stop. The silence pressed, hard and sharp, on his abused ears.

Warmth spilled down Stiles’ skin, wrapping him in a strange embrace. It pulsed around him: urgent, insisting. In comparison, Lydia’s hand was intolerable and clammy in his grasp.

Shaken, he continued, “O thou fearsome Kore. O thou mighty Dis Pater. We are gathered before you to seek a joining. O dread lords, if this circle be worthy, send a mate to—.”

Every light in the room went out.

“Damn it.” Derek sighed.

As though that had been the signal, Jackson grunted. “What do you mean ‘damn it’? And you can let go of my hand, Hale.”

“Is this how it happens?” Kira whispered.

“You know it’s his fault, Derek.”

“Shut up, Isaac!” chorused the circle.

In the pitch black, they waited for several long seconds.

Eventually, Scott asked, “Should we go on? Or try again?”

“We should leave the circle,” argued Allison.

“Boyd and I agree.”

“Yes. There’s something wrong.” Lydia squeezed Stiles’ hand and admitted, “We must have miscalculated.”

“Wait, do you hear that?”

A muffled rustling reached their ears—first Derek, then the mere humans. They all heard it: the distant baying of hounds piercing the dark.

“It’s too late for that.” Derek sighed. “He’s coming.”

“Took you long enough,” Stiles muttered. And who was he talking to? His friends for finally realizing something was wrong? Or him?

The lights returned with a subterranean groan, dazzling in their intensity. Thick tendrils of cold wrapped around his ankles and crawled up his calves, a shock in the scorching heat of the ritual room. Unless he missed his guess, it wrapped around all of them. What else explained the way everyone jumped and how they were all pushed out of the circle—all except for him. Stiles lost his grip on Lydia’s hand as she stumbled backwards, and he would have fallen except for a pair of familiar hands, resting easily on his back and waist.

Stiles shut his eyes. He’s coming. Hadn’t he always known the truth? Hadn’t part of him hoped?

“And that’s more than enough excitement for all good children,” declared Deuc. Stiles’ eyes shot open when Deuc’s hands drifted up to squeeze his shoulders in greeting. A moment later, Ennis and Kali and several others popped in with parental passengers, to clean up the mess they’d made.

The ritual room blurred around him. It shifted into a dazzling display of light and color. His stomach swooped terribly as the demon, Deuc, swept him through the back corridors of reality.

A moment or a year later, they landed neatly on a bench in some fantastical garden, the likes of which Stiles had never seen. Despite the blazing sun, which shouldn’t have been out now anyway, cereus and jasmine and devil’s snare bloomed all around them.

He couldn’t smell a thing.

A careful hand rubbed soothing circles over tight muscles that had forgotten how to work. “Breathe, Stiles.”

The realization crashed in on him that he wasn’t breathing, and Stiles panicked. He choked, all while Deuc rubbed his back and shushed him. He let out a feeble croak when the connection between brain and lungs finally snapped back together, and he pulled in his first gasping breath. His head swam as beautiful, wonderful oxygen entered his body again.

“The first time you Travel is always stressful on the human body. Unfortunately, there’s never been anything that helped except for practice.”

“Right,” Stiles wheezed. He pressed a shaking hand to his chest to calm his galloping heart. “I’ll keep that in mind for next time.”

“I would have warned you, but I wanted to get you out during the confusion.”

“But…” Stiles trailed off and shrugged.

Deuc continued as though Stiles had asked a question. “If you aren’t there when everyone stops to count heads, then you couldn’t have been there for the ritual either.” His eyes crinkled in a smile. “You’re a talented practitioner, but teleportation will be a bit beyond you for several years, at least without help.”

“Thanks for that. I guess.” Stiles sat in the half-circle of Deuc’s arm, soaking in the sunlight and relearning how to breathe as the heady perfume of night-blooming flowers threatened to overwhelm him.

“You’re very welcome, dear boy.”

“Are my friends okay?”

“They’re no more the worse for wear. They’re lucky you were there. I would have had no reason to interrupt before things had gone too far, and you were headed straight for a node upheaval.”

It chilled Stiles how his mentor casually explained that they’d almost triggered an Upheaval. “Okay… if not for the sake of California, why did you interrupt in the first place? What is it about me?”

Deuc leaned over and brushed his lips across Stiles’ temple. “My dear, Sariel. Do you know who I am yet?”

Stiles glanced away. “Maybe.”

“Stiles. Really.” He arched one sandy blonde eyebrow.

There it was. The same voice that had always scolded him for inattention or sloppiness. The voice that always demanded so much of him; but the praise, when it happened… that had always been the sweetest reward.

Emboldened by the memory of that praise, Stiles admitted, “I know you’re a demon. I’m like, ninety-eight percent certain that you’re the Ancestor.”

“Oh very good. I always knew you were clever.”

He flushed under Deucalion’s appreciative gaze. There had always been affection, but now there was a burning hunger, an endless greed, that he was finally allowing Stiles to witness.

“So you’re the Ancestor. The Demon Wolf. Guardian of the Northern Reaches” Stiles prompted, dizzy with the implications. This was who he had sworn to help almost four years ago. Shouldn’t he be more surprised or upset to have his suspicions confirmed?

“I am. I helped end the Sealed Beast Wars with Aurelia Mancuso. She is the only summoner I have ever bonded with… and Claudia had the unmitigated gall to ask me to serve her child when he performed the great rite.”

Blue eyes pierced through Stiles, haughty and distant as befit a dread lord of the outer spaces. If family lore was reliable, then Deucalion had been a king in his own right, ruling over a vast domain in the dimension that humans chose to call hell.

Deucalion smiled at him with empty eyes, not a speck of his usual warmth in evidence—the light of his human facade trickling out of his face. “Do you know, the moment you touched me I felt more energized than I had ever been. Even in the great old days when we were free to hunt little upstart summoners and feast on their magic? And believe me, that is no exaggeration.”

Stung, Stiles attempted to recoil, but Deucalion’s arm was an immovable object, wound tightly around his body. “So what? I’m just food to you? Is that why you said yes?”

“Didn’t I just call you clever?” Deucalion tsked, pulling his human mask on in the blink of an eye. “You’re of my line. I could never harm you.”

“Then what?” Stiles cried, head throbbing from the stress of his evening. “What do you want from me? Because I’ll tell you what I want, Deucalion.” He sneered. “You. I want you all the time, so much that I can barely think about anything else. Like something’s always pulling me toward you. I—” his voice cracked, “I love you. I love you more than anything else, and if you come to my circle to be my demon, then I will take you. I’ll bind you to me and never let go. And if you ever betray me, then I will destroy you like any enemy of my clan.”

“Oh darling.” Deuc beamed at him in nothing less than unalloyed delight. “You do remind me of Aurelia, but infinitely, wonderfully more. She is mere shadow compared to you.” He picked up Stiles’ hand and kissed his fingertips.

“You could never be simple food to me. When you touched my name I knew. You were the one I was meant for. You were the reason the signs guided me into accept Aurelia’s offer. Your mother asked me to lend you a portion of my grace, but you never needed that loan. We are one, eternal matter returning to each other across space and time.”

He laid his a hand over Stiles’, where it still rested over his heart. “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”

I am my beloved, and my beloved is mine. “You can’t possibly mean it.”

How could it be that his unspoken desire was so easily fulfilled?

“You are the missing piece, the completion of my soul. I have always been your demon, and now I always will be. You called me to your circle. As your bridegroom, I came to you. There is no demon who would fail to recognize our joining. The moment I arrived was the moment of our sacred union.”

“We… it’s already been done?” Stiles gaped at him. “But I wasn’t the supplicant! Derek and Jackson were the ones inside the circle. We never even asked!

“I swore to come to you when you stepped into the circle, committing yourself to Heiros Gamos. I have fulfilled the letter of my vow to your mother, if not in the way she expected.”

“You sneaky bastard,” Stiles said in admiration.

Deucalion trailed a finger down Stiles’ arm, and a line of heat followed it. Demonic glyphs blinked at him before sinking into his skin, quiescent. “With this, you will always be able to find me. Call me from the outermost edge of the universe, and I will come.”

Stiles touched the bare skin that had just displayed the letters of Deuc’s true name. “I wasn’t supposed to have a bond until my next birthday. Mom was planning a big party and everything.”

“We can still have a reception.”

“I guess.” Stiles stared at his lap and plucked at a loose thread on his shirt.

“Darling.” Deuc tipped Stiles’ face back up. “Do you feel cheated of the pomp and circumstance?”

“Maybe. It just…” Stiles shrugged. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. At all.”

“Let me make it up to you.” And before the last word had been spoken, the sun winked out, transforming to moon and stars. The scent of flowers intensified until Stiles could taste them, heavy on his tongue.

With wide eyes, he watched as Deuc swept off of the bench and knelt down in supplication. He took both of Stiles’ hands in his own and gazed up at him in utterly sincere adoration. “Now that we’re one, I will keep nothing from you. I have so many things to show you now, Stiles. So many things left to teach you. And I will do everything in my power to safeguard your happiness.”

Deuc’s eyes glowed faintly, red bleeding into the usual blue. “Who summons me, Deucalion, Lord of the North?”

The air around them turned thick, heavy with power, but Stiles had long since learned to drink it down. The name on his arm rose up, swollen and fever-hot, aching for his bondmate’s touch.

And what choices were left to make when it was already done and recorded in demonkind’s Book of Souls? When Deucalion had knelt before him and promised him knowledge beyond limit? When his very soul had yearned and still yearned to be united, reunited, with the demon? How could he deny his greatest wish when all he had to do was reach out and take it?

In Stiles’ world, there could be only one choice. He opened his mouth and answered, “I, Sariel Stilinski, summon my bridegroom to the circle. Do you yield?”

“I yield.”

“Joyfully and willingly, I commit myself to you and you alone.”

“To you and you alone,” Deuc swore.

The magic between them shivered as Deucalion drew near, and as their lips met, it sparked, closing the circuit. Power flowed from his mouth and into Stiles’, sweet like summer peaches. When they broke apart, Stiles was breathing heavily, flushed from the contact and drunk on magic.

Stiles licked his lips. They tasted like Deucalion and magic. Drowning in jasmine and datura, Stiles slipped from the bench, joining him on the dirt. He clung to Deuc’s chest, fingers digging in as he pressed fervent kisses to his mouth.

Deucalion’s hands wandered to Stiles’ waist, creeping past his shirt hem. He stroked over Stiles’ back, trailing points of fire across his skin.

In between kisses, Deuc said, “I want you, Sariel. Here, under the moon and stars. Will you let me have you?”

Stiles gazed into Deuc’s eyes, now fully red, and he felt no doubt. A fierce joy rose from his soul. “I am my beloved’s.”

Carefully, inexorably, Deuc urged him to recline on grass soft as the finest down, and in the blink of an eyes, Stiles’ clothes vanished. A loud crack distracted him from his nakedness. Stiles stared as snapping bones and melting figure reshaped itself from the human form he had always known and into the demon: a lupine creature of black shadows, limned in fire. Stiles moaned—in terror or elation he didn’t know—and bared his neck to knife-bright teeth that blazed with spirit-flame.

The demon lowered his dark head and scraped jagged fangs against Stiles’ exposed throat. Stiles waited, soft breath and beating heart—frozen beneath his bridegroom, his bondmate, his love.

“I’m ready,” Stiles whispered. “Do it.”

Deucalion threw back his head and howled his triumph. The wild bellow resounded in the garden; he crouched motionless above Stiles until the last echoes faded.

Teeth flashed in the shifting darkness of Deucalion’s face, and he bit, sinking his teeth deep into delicate flesh. When he lifted his head, they dripped with fire and blood. The mixture sizzled against the mark spreading across Stiles’ shoulder.

Gentle once more, Deuc cradled Stiles with taloned hands, licking away his tears. Tenderly, he kissed Stiles’ brow and proclaimed, “My beloved is mine.”